Russia trade deal taking longer
New Zealand's free trade agreement with Russia and two of its neighbouring states is taking longer than expected and is unlikely to be signed this week.
Negotiators were originally aiming to have the deal ready for the APEC leaders meeting this week in Vladivostok.
But a Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry spokesperson said there was still some work to be done.
"While we would like to see the negotiation concluded as quickly as possible, New Zealand's over-arching objective is the conclusion of an ambitious, high quality agreement, and we will not allow a timeline to compromise this objective."
The proposed trade deal is with the "Customs Union" nations of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
It is expected to be top of Prime Minister John Key's agenda when he heads to Russia to attend the APEC leaders meeting this week.
There he will meet up with Trade Minister Tim Groser, who has said previously that agriculture was a sensitive part of the talks.
Russia has a large dairy industry of its own, as does Belarus which is a major dairy exporter to Russia.
Stuart Prior, a former New Zealand ambassador to Russia, said Belarus had initially been intimidated by the thought of Fonterra having better access to the Russian market.
But a flurry of delegations from Belarus to New Zealand this year had shown they were willing to talk and even explore joint ventures in areas like beef and dairy.
"There's certainly a feeling on the Belarusian side that the FTA could pose a threat to existing trade to Russia, but I think they also see some significant positive possibilities."
The APEC meetings are particularly significant for Russia, which was admitted to the World Trade Organisation last month.
Prior said those who attended would see how many resources were available in eastern Russia.
He said education often pre-empted hard business deals and Auckland's AUT already had a sizeable number of Russian students. Canterbury University also had connections with the Russian Far Eastern University.
New Zealand's exports to the Customs Union countries are currently worth a modest $280 million.
MFAT says a free trade deal will improve this by removing tariffs and facilitating trade.
But beyond this, it would help position New Zealand alongside an emerging regional actor.
Getting "first mover advantage" would place New Zealand in an emerging trading bloc within the Asia-Pacific and Europe.
It would also help mitigate the risk of trade dependence on New Zealand's existing key trading partners.
The Government also recently announced that career diplomat Hamish Cooper will replace Ian Hill as New Zealand's ambassador to Russia. Cooper, a former ambassador to Turkey, is expected to take up his role early next year.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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